Friday, 12 September 2014

The Leibster Award

We’ve been tagged for the Leibster Award, a sort of “chain letter” for sailing blogs.  It represents a very nice recognition by your sail-blogging peers and is a great way to learn of other blogs out there.  Thank you, thank you, thank you The Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick for the nomination!

The game consists of answering the following getting-to-know-you questions and then tagging other blogs. 

Introduce us to your crew. Who are they and what role do they play in your operation?
We are a hillbilly (Maria, from Kentucky, USA) and a frog (Patrick, from Brittany, France) who dropped everything to go sailing.

The hillbilly is an oceanographer who spent most of her career coordinating international research programs before deciding to marry the frog and take early retirement.  The frog is a computer geek who was able to take full retirement at 55 (which is also pretty dang early these days, n’est-ce pas?).

On board our Dehler 34, Spray, Maria is the navigator, sail trimmer, diver, blogger, photographer, and chief worrywart.  Patrick is the primary helmsman, mechanic, electrician, plumber, head cook, and chief “don’t worry, be happy” guy.

What sort of boat do you have and would you recommend it for other adventurers hoping to live aboard? What do you like the least about your choice? 
This is a tricky question.  In the short amount of time we’ve been cruising on our own, we’ve learned that it’s not about the boat.  Lots of cruisers are out there doing amazing things on boats that don’t tick the boxes for a live-aboard, blue-water cruising boat.  But it all boils down to personal preference, sailing project, comfort level, and bank account size.

We have a Dehler 34, 1992 designed by Van de Stadt.  She is a beautiful “classic plastic” yacht, fast and robust (category A), capable of going anywhere.  We fell in love with her immediately, even though she was a bit larger than we wanted for our first boat.  Her previous owners took her out for a trans-Atlantic cruise from France to the Caribbean and back, and we knew she would be capable of handling a couple of cruising neophytes as they took their first wobbly steps in the world of long-distance cruising.

And now that Spray has shown us how much we love this lifestyle, we are hoping to sell her to move up to something a bit larger and more comfortable for longer cruising.  (Sounds terribly ungrateful, doesn’t it?)  Spray’s diesel reservoir is approximately 60 litres (16 gallons) and the water tank only holds 90 litres (24 gallons).  Sure, you can have jerrycans tied everywhere, and in some circumstances, it’s better to be able to shift around the weight where you need it.  The motor is only 18 HP for 4 tonnes and, coupled with a 2-blade folding prop, we are constantly reminded that we are on a sail boat.  Again, others do more with less, but we’re looking for something a bit more geared towards “retirement cruising” for a live-aboard boat.

What are your sailing plans, if you have any, for the future? 
Like moths to the flame (e.g., like every other sailor living in northern Europe) we dream of sailing down into the Med for a few years.  After that, we’ll see what our motivation and confidence levels look like.  Maybe the Atlantic islands (Canaries, Cape Verdes, Azores), maybe a tour of the Baltic, maybe a trans-Atlantic? 

How do you support your lifestyle while sailing and cruising?
During the last 15 years we worked, we lived very modestly, which allowed us to both take early retirement. We rented a small apartment and put more than half of our salaries into savings every month.  Up until the age of 40, everything I owned could fit into my car (a Volkswagon Polo, no less!).  No house, no stuff, no kids, no problem!  Now we live on Patrick’s pension and my investments, and we bought a small duplex to call home during the winter months when sailing just doesn’t have the same appeal.  We still live fairly frugally because that’s just the way we roll. 

What's the best experience you've had while living aboard? 
We only live aboard about 4-6 months out of the year.  This lifestyle has been dubbed commuter cruising by David and Jan at Commuter Cruiser and it describes our situation perfectly. 

It’s difficult to choose a single best experience.  Of course, there are those moments of pure grace when the sun is shining, the seas are smooth, the wind is just right, and dolphins come over to play with you.  We also love the constant change of scenery, discovering new places and making new friends along the way.  The solidarity in the sailing community warms our hearts and reminds us of how good people can be.  Live-aboard traveling allows you to explore the world while carrying your own little “chez toi” with you.   

Name the most challenging experience you have had while living aboard and what did you do to overcome it?
Why is it that naming the best experiences are difficult while the worst experiences are sooo easy to single out? 

The weather continues to be our biggest bugaboo.  Two particularly bad incidents (one along the north coast of Brittany and one along the north coast of Spain) were called “freak” situations because they were short-lived phenomena that weren’t easy to predict.  But the fact that there can be 50 knots of wind and 5-6 meters of swell out there …what? HIDING !?… makes us very uneasy. 

Learning to cope with our own fears and anxieties has been a major undertaking these last few years.  It’s a process of learning to distinguish between fears that are healthy well-founded ones and those that are simply parasitic.  Experience is the best teacher, and we’ve learned a few things to help us avoid bad situations, real and imagined.  At least we now know how to better cope with bad weather when it does strike, which goes a long way to eliminating fears.  Best of all, we’ve learned (only just recently, I might add) that the joys of this lifestyle outweigh the scary bits.  

Is living aboard and sailing an alternative way of life for you, an escape from the system, or is it just a temporary adventure?
Living and sailing around Europe where the weather is not amenable to year-round cruising, we have become “commuter cruisers” who live aboard 4-6 months of the year.  In the beginning, we tried winter cruising and, while there were some magical moments, it was mostly just wet, cold and gray.  When huddled in the saloon while a squall blew over, we would said to ourselves “it’s still better than sitting at home”, and that sentiment carried us through until the day we realized that we had more options than just sailing or sitting at home.  So now when the weather gets nasty, we pull the boat out of the water and go do other things (land cruising, we call it) until the sun comes out again.  

Even with only living aboard part of the year, our lifestyle is definitely an escape from the traditional retirement gig.  It’s a logical response to the question of what to do when you retire early and don’t care much for home and garden.  Traveling is a passion for both of us, and sailing is a great way to move around for 6 months of the year. There are other ways to travel (faster, cheaper, more comfortable to boot) but Patrick is a foody (did I mention he’s French?) and wouldn’t be able to tolerate a mode of travel that wouldn’t let us to have our own kitchen and to eat well !

We’re just getting started in this cruising life, but we’re hooked and hope to have many more years ahead of us.  Here in Europe, we’re also blessed with an almost continent-wide network of canals, so when we’re too old to sea cruise, we’ll move aboard a houseboat and cruise Europe’s inner seas!

Any big mistakes you have learned from that others may learn from too?
The first winter we owned Spray, she broke away from her mooring buoy during two back-to-back gales on New Year’s Eve and was the subject of a rather spectacular rescue by the local maritime rescue service, involving 2 boats and a diver.  We were enjoying the New Year’s festivities at home with friends when it happened.

Most of the damage was to our egos and our confidence levels, but we still had to pull the boat out of the water for an inspection and do some touch-up work on the hull.  Most of the work fell to Patrick since I jetted off to sunny Florida to visit my family for 2 weeks.  Patrick attacked the work relentlessly, scraping, sanding, and grinding in the cold grey wet windy Brittany winter.  He didn’t ask for advice or help, and had to muddle though as best he could. 

By the time I got home, he was in a pitiful state.  He had come down with a bronchial infection from inhaling too much dust (probably the anti-fouling...very bad) and being exposed to the cold wind for hours every day, and was physically and emotionally exhausted.  His confidence was severely shaken, his self-esteem at rock-bottom, and he said he didn’t have what it takes to manage a boat.  He fell into a depression that lasted several months.  We agreed to sell the boat and move on to other things. 

I didn’t blog about it at the time because it was too personal and too painful, but with time we can better understand why it happened. If the sea teaches you anything, it’s humility.  We’ve always been humble in the face of mother nature, but accepting our own weakness and need for help is another thing entirely.  We have to accept that we weren’t born with a natural instinct for managing a boat.  It’s something that has to be learned, preferably with good mentors rather than from the school-of-hard-knocks.  Fortunately, we are now members of 2 sailing associations where help is generously and cheerfully available.  We’ve learned to appreciate this more and more and it’s made all the difference. 

What advice would you give to those that may be interested in following in your footsteps and living aboard and/or cruising?
The only advice we would dare to give is: Learn to sail first.  There are many stories about people with no experience who buy a boat, cast off the lines, and go on to great adventures, but the reason those stories are in the sailing magazines is because they are the exception rather than the rule, and, in our opinion, a bit foolhardy.  Get good sail training through a school or association.  Crewing for others is a great way to learn and to get to know different boats.  Almost every port we’ve ever been in has a message board at the port office where there are notices of skippers looking for crew.  Sail enough to learn not just how to handle the sails but also everything else that goes into cruising: navigation techniques and strategies (including how to navigate without the aid of electronic gadgets... on account of you just never know...), understanding / interpreting weather forecasts, basic on-board safety, how to use the VHF (in France, you need a permit requiring a test), sailing in bad weather conditions, coping with sea sickness (your own or your crew’s), how to manage eating, sleeping, basic boat and motor maintenance, how to recover someone who has fallen overboard, etc. 

And an important piece of advice related to the previous question:  Surround yourself with fellow sailors who can offer help and advice when needed.

What motivates you to blog and what tips can you offer fellow bloggers?
I started blogging as a way to inform my non-sailing family where I was and what I was doing.  They were understandably worried when Patrick and I decided to buy our own boat and head off “alone together” instead of crewing for others.  Having them share in our little adventure helps to demystify the unknown and reduce the anxiety (some of it, anyway).  It’s also been great fun for us to keep a scrapbook of our cruising life and to see for ourselves how we’ve evolved in ways we didn’t expect. 

The only real tip I can offer is to name your blog something other than the name of your boat if you aren’t sure you will be sailing on that boat for years to come.  We really should make better use of other social media or blog directories to draw attention to our blog, but since we hope to buy a new boat soon - a boat that will not be named Spray – we’ve hesitated to “advertise” more widely.  

The other piece of advice I am giving myself is to stress the importance of good photos.  I’m hoping that Santa Claus will bring me a new camera this year and I am looking around locally for a class on digital photography.  I’m just a point-and-shoot person and can definitely see the difference between what I produce and what other blogs put out there. 

Our Nominations
I’m not sure how long this award chain has been circulating, but I suspect that our nominations will overlap with others.  But hey… that just means that lots of us out here really like their blogs, so I hope they’ll forgive the double nominations. 

Like The Cynical Sailor and his Salty Sidekick who nominated us, we follow quite a few blogs (although we’ve fallen behind in the last 4 months we’ve been at sea).  Besides The Cynical Sailor and The Red Thread, here are a few of our favorites du jour:

Just a Little Further - subtitle “it’s not just travel… it’s our lifestyle.”  We love the name of the blog and the philosophy behind it… slow steady progress that has allowed Marcie and David to sail around the world.  The blog has excellent writing (both Marcie and David write for various sailing magazines) and is updated frequently with useful and entertaining information.

Commuter Cruiser - This great site is a mix of practical information and a cruising blog of David and Jan’s adventures in the part-time live-aboard lifestyle.  We also love their sailing philosophy: “as long as it’s fun.”    

The Retirement Projet - Tim and Deb took up cruising as an early retirement project.  As we are following in their footsteps, we’ve had great fun following their adventures with their first boat and first long-distance cruises.

To participate in the Leibster Award, you should:

Refer back to the blog that you nominated you.
Answer questions posed by the nominator (same ones as above).
Nominate other blogs you believe are worthwhile.


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Thanks for the shoutout! Great answers - looking forward to following more of your adventures :-)

Cheers - Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor